Targeting the sweet spot of the Gartner Hype Cycle

I have mixed feelings about Gartner, the well-known IT research and advisory company. Without a doubt it’s important for companies, especially larger ones, to make good use of market and technology analyses when they’re envisioning and planning how their business is going to evolve in the coming years. Industry snapshots and forecasts by Gartner, International Data Corp. (IDC), The 451 Group, and similar technology industry analysts can be a valuable input for corporate decision-making at all levels — provided the information they provide is used wisely and taken with a grain (or more) of salt.

Speaking of salt, I have to add some pepper and a dash of tabasco sauce to one of the latest missives that comes out of the Gartner hype machine. What I’m talking about is their recent prediction that 85 percent of businesses will have migrated their PCs from earlier versions of Windows to Windows 10 by the end of the current year 2017. The report is titled “User Survey Analysis: Windows 10 Migration Looks Healthy” and it can be accessed using this link provided you’ve registered with Gartner as a licensed client. For those of you who aren’t able to access this report, I’ll quote one of the significant bullet points from this press release from the Gartner Newsroom:

“Large businesses are either already engaged in Windows 10 upgrades or have delayed upgrading until 2018,” Atwal says. “This likely reflects the transition of legacy applications to Windows 10 or replacing those legacy applications before Windows 10 migration takes place.”

Gartner Hype Cycle

How this prognostication by Gartner can jive with recent statistics compiled by NetMarketShare, a service provided by web analytics company NetApplications, which indicates that Windows 10 is currently only deployed on about 26 percent of measured clients (compared with Windows 7, which still has almost double the market share with about 49 percent) is something of a mystery to me. Will there suddenly be a mass migration by organizations and businesses from Windows 7 to Windows 10 by end of year? I have no doubt that some of this will happen since many larger companies I know have been working on their desktop migration plans for several years now and are ready to take the plunge. But will 85 percent of businesses actually be running Windows 10 by the end of 2017? I doubt it.

The true value of hype

Gartner Hype Cycle

But before we accuse Gartner once again of hype (something now referred to as “fake news” in the social sphere as far as I can tell) it’s important to recognize that the value of understanding hype is actually known and recognized by Gartner, and in a way that can be of real benefit to businesses that rely on the latest developments in information technology. I’m referring of course to the Gartner Hype Cycle, a branded graphical presentation developed by Gartner to explain how the use of a technology (especially a disruptive or highly promising one) by a company typically evolves once the company has adopted it.

The Hype Cycle identifies five different phases in the use of a new technology over the life cycle of time it remains relevant to the needs of a company. These phases start off with something triggering the adoption of the technology, usually by insight concerning how it can benefit the company’s needs. Expectations of the value of the technology then rapidly inflate until interest peaks and a trough of disillusionment usually follows. Disillusionment however can be as illusory as inflated expectation, and if the company perseveres, then gradually a time of growing enlightenment follows in which the true value as well as limitations of the technology become well understood. Productivity is thus slowly but steadily driven forward by proper use of the technology — until, of course, the next insanely promising disruptive technology comes along and grabs management’s attention.

Of course, as it stands, the Hype Cycle is really nothing more than commonsense, the common experience of anyone who runs a business for many years and has seen promising technologies come and go. In other words, the whole concept of over-promise/under-deliver is too well known by anyone who relies on technology to empower their core business processes.

What makes Gartner’s approach different, though, is that they actually try to use their Hype Cycle as a tool for trying to advise businesses which emerging technologies to early adopt, which technologies to persevere with if you’ve already adopted them, and which to consider that it might be time to let them go.

To illustrate this application of the Hype Cycle to corporate planning, take a look at the graph labeled Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2016 in this press release item from the Gartner Newsroom. As you might expect there is a significant clustering of new technologies still residing in (according to Gartner anyway) the first two phases of the Hype Cycle. Some of these like Smart Dust and 4D printing are probably no more than marketing hype, wishful thinking that will likely die while spawning three new ideas for each one that fades into oblivion.

Some others, like autonomous vehicles and natural-language question answering, have been identified by Gartner as currently sliding into the Trough of Disillusionment. Of course, the companies developing and marketing products and solutions around those technologies are likely to disagree with this placement on the Hype Cycle continuum. Then there’s virtual reality, which Gartner has identified as rising onto the Slope of Enlightenment. What’s important to remember however is that enlightenment doesn’t necessarily equate with adoption.

The danger for most businesses, of course, is to buy in too quickly into emerging technologies in the early portion of the Hype Cycle. This is because the sudden trigger for adoption and rapid rise of expectations of new technologies are mostly driven by hype when they first emerge. Remember, new technologies first emerge as mere ideas, then as communicated ideas (media hype), then as proof-of-concept prototypes (more media hype), then as proof-of-production projects (still more media hype), and so on until they finally establish significant market reach. So to avoid being driven into making unwise decisions with emerging technologies, the key thing you need to do is to be aware of the different sources of hype surrounding new technologies. Things like social contagion, pressure from competitors, confirmation bias, or a simple preference for novelty all represent significant drivers toward hype that one needs to avoid regardless of where in the decision-making fabric you reside within a business or organization.

Using the Hype Cycle for your benefit

In my own business, I try and overcome these negative drivers by simply keeping my business goals and budget in my face at all times. So when a new technology comes along and tries to grab my attention I ask myself questions like: Can this technology further my future business goals? Can it help me achieve any of my immediate business objectives? Will it require significant budgetary resources in order to implement? Will it require significant expenditure of time and energy to be trained in implementing, maintaining, and using it?

I also set myself a time limit (initially around five or 10 minutes) to make a first stab at answering these questions. Often, for example with a technology like Cortana in Windows 10, it takes me only a few seconds to decide what to do –turn it off. Occasionally I’ll flag the technology for further investigation later down the line if it scores a “D” or better in my first appraisal of its potential benefits for my businesses. And I always need to keep in mind that as a business owner, I’m also subject to tendencies like inertia and my own limited imagination that may be coloring my view of new technologies and hindering me from seeing that they’re more than just hype.

But if I do decide that I may be willing to take a risk on a new technology, I then try to envision how my use of the technology might evolve over the next couple of years in my business. In other words, I try to use Gartner’s Hype Cycle graph as a kind of visualization tool similar to how a high-jump athlete will visualize how they’re going to successfully achieve a jump before they attempt to make it. That, in my opinion, may be the true value of the Gartner Hype Cycle because it can help me prognosticate better the growth and evolution of my own business and technology concerns.

Which brings me back to Windows 10 and why we adopted it in our business. We just couldn’t take the pressure anymore from all that hype coming at us. Lol.

Photo credit: Bing Images

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